The concept for NBC's Up All Night, which premiered last night, is a great one: get a hip pair of thirtysomethings like Christina Applegate and Will Arnett and show what happens when they decide to become parents. The problem is it's a great concept for a movie—not a TV show.
A pair of in-their-prime party people having a kid and having to deal with the growing pains of middle age is fertile ground for drama and certainly comedy—especially in the capable hands of Applegate and Arnett (who seems to have dialed down his signature haughty wackiness perhaps a bit too much)—but haven't we heard all these jokes before? It's hard to change a diaper! Pregnancy makes you pee at funny times! Babies fall over! Whee! Even with the added wrinkle of mommy going back to work while daddy stays home isn't enough to make this truly original (does only Joanna Kerns remember Growing Pains?).
Yes, there is a hilarious sequence where the new parents go out way too late doing shots and singing karaoke and find out how much worse nursing a hangover is when you have to nurse a baby too. The way it deals with the mix of love and anxiety that come from parenthood is a refreshing change from the usual preciousness we're served up. But how often can this show pull off these gags before it becomes repetitious.
Right now its best asset is Maya Rudolph, playing Applegate's boss, a sort of self-obsessed talk show host who is one part Oprah, one party Tyra, and one part Kappa Kappa Gamma sister who is one keg stand away from making out with the entire lacrosse team. I just kept waiting for her to come back with some more hilarity or tales about sharing a limo with Ian Ziering in the '90s. What the show is going to need going forward is some more characters—maybe a best friend, some intrusive neighbors, a crazy nanny, something!—to take some of the weight off of and create some plots for our fabulously hip parents.
But that's the other problem with this show, at least from my perspective. The great thing about a family sitcom, whether it's Modern Family or Family Matters, is that everyone can see themselves in the show. Everyone is a mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister, wacky red-headed homosexual or clumsy nerd next door. Unless you have kids, Up All Night is alienating. I only identified with Rudolph's character, trying to get her shut-in friends to forget the baby and party with her and comes off as venal for the attempt.
It feels like the writers room is made up of cool kats in their early 30s who had kids and write a fight between the parents where they argue about who was up with the baby longer and they all laugh cause they've all been there, and every urbanite without a nanny is sitting at home chuckling, "It's so true!" to their spouse as the kids doze in their cribs. There are a lot of those parents out there, and the show seems to have found a good-sized audience. But for the rest of us, we're just wondering when the fresh jokes are going to start, so we can get in on the fun.